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  • Ties that Bind Conference

    May 2-5, 1995

    Last week I was at a "Ties that Bind" conference at Apple Computer in Cupertino. The focus was mostly on community networks (like Free Nets), but there were several things that might be useful to us here as we construct NativeWeb. Here are some random thoughts:

    * Richard Civille (Center for Civic Networking) made what I thought was a very insightful comment that the question is not profit vs. non-profit, but sustainability. If we put a lot of work into a project it is worth doing it right and making sure we can carry it on over the long term rather than letting it collapse after a year.

    * At an open meeting the first night, someone mentioned that at last year's conference many people didn't know what WWW was and that people had fights about using a Gopher vs. a Web interface. There has been an incredible explosion in interest in the Web in the last year. Some people said that they thought that we had at most a 18 month window until Telcom/Cable companies step in and close down access to sites like ours. We must move now, or the opportunity for broad democratic expression and participation will be lost and the window of opportunity will close fast. [I think there will be tremendous wars over the use of the Internet. Jim Clark from Netscape has said in interviews that he wants to monopolize the means of production on the Internet much like book publishing companies do with print media.]

    * I attended a session on wireless networks, particularly because with my position as an Intern at SAIIC I am interested in looking at how to use satelite technology to hook isolated rural communities and organizations in Latin America up to the Internet. This session wasn't that useful for that (they were talking about a mile or tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles), but they did have good ideas on access that we could use to help hook isolated reservations up to the 'net. Apparently you can use this technology to bring one modem connection in to a central school or community building and then multiple people can have access at relatively high speeds at the same time. This is something to think about as we talk about access issues.

    * Representatives from the National Telecommunications and Information Adminstration (NTIA) have a talk. This year they have $1Billion in requests for grant money and about $25-50 million in available funds. If we had a more formal organization, I think it might be a good idea to go after grant money like this so that we can have our own server. If we work more on issues of access in rural communities, we would need sources of funds like this.

    * I was at a session called "Other Cultures" which wasn't well-attended. Steve Cisler (who organized this conference) is very international in his scope and went out of his way to bring those components to this conference. But it appears that many people who do community networking think about it in rather narrow terms. Some people would talk about a local project that they are doing and how they were thinking about extending it to a "national" level. IMHO, there is nothing "national" about the Internet. Once you expand beyond the local level, it is a small step to go global. I think we should keep that in mind with this NativeWeb project, and continue to look at the international aspects of indigenous struggles.

    That little soapbox aside, the "Other Cultures" session was very good. Dan Umstead and Dale Rood from the Oneida Nation were there as well as Randy Ross from the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium and Armando Valdez from LatinoNet (which is on America On-line). I think we should keep in constant dialogue with others who are working on similar projects so as not to unnecessarily duplicate efforts. In particular, I think the Oneida project is particularly interesting and I am excited by its potential. Already they are helping other Tribes come on line (see http://oneida-nation.org/uset/uset.htm).

    * I came away from the conference with piles of reading materials and URLs and suggestions and ideas, etc. As people mark up pages for NativeWeb, you might want to take a look at the document (actually, a chapter in a larger document) "Readability, Browsability, and Searchability: Three essential qualities of information systems" at:

    http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/staff/morgan/eric-binds-some-ties.html

    * One person mentioned that we talk a lot about access and content, but we also need to think about marketing. If people can't find us, the work is meaningless.

    * Random observation on gender: I think it was roughly half male and half female, or at least it wasn't predominately male (though it *was* predominately white). I was surprised how many community networking projects are being led by women. I think the gender makeup on the Internet is beginning to shift--I just read a story in the paper where it has gone from something like 10/90 to 40/60 or something. That is a good sign.

    * One final comment--esp. in rural areas (but also in poor urban areas) we can't forget the last mile problem--how to reach the users.

    If you are interested in more information on the conference, presentations, papers and reports are supposed to be posted to:

    http://www.apple.com/alot/tiesthatbind95.html

    I haven't checked to see if they are there yet. A participant also posted some of her comments on the proceedings at:

    http://www.tmn.com

    One final note--this was a very good conference. It was well worth my time going. I believe it will be an annual conference (this was the second one) but next year this time I plan to be in Ecuador. It would be good to have someone from our NativeWeb project there next year. One of you should think about going.


    Marc Becker mbecker@uclink2.berkeley.edu
    Updated: May 14, 1995




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